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By LARRY VAUGHT
Having to face Connecticut twice in the Elite Eight convinced Kentucky women’s coach Matthew Mitchell that his team had to get better offensively to reach a Final Four. So that’s what he had his players focus on the most during summer workouts.
“Just didn’t feel like in either one of those games (against UConn) we did as well as we could do offensively,” said Mitchell. “I thought a lot of … particularly in last year’s game, our lack of poise in that position led to some bad shots, which really fueled their offense. Their transition offense is really where they killed us was I think more of a product of us not playing poor defense but us playing poor offense and taking bad shots, which led out to transition for them.
“As you go through self‑evaluation process, we scored a bunch of points last year against some really good teams, but we’ve been there at the precipice of the Final Four three times now, and in all three games I felt like our offensive execution could have been better. I just think that we need to make sure as coaches we give them enough opportunity to get to a spot where they, under pressure at the most important time, can execute.”
Mitchell said the challenge is to become the best on both ends of the court, something he thinks Kentucky has done with its defense in recent years.
“I think that where we are as a program and how hard we’ve worked on our defensive fundamentals, if you watch our practice, those kind of things are really engrained in working hard,” he said. “So I think trying to pay a little bit extra attention to offensive execution will serve this team well, so that’s been the goal.”
Mitchell said he also made sure that a rule change allowing him to work some with players in the summer didn’t become a burden for the players.
“We were so happy to be able to work with our players, but we also didn’t want to lengthen the season to a spot where it just becomes no fun. We all start out playing the game on some court shooting the ball into the hoop, and that’s usually what people fall in love with,” the UK coach said. “You don’t start out the first experience in basketball doing defensive explosion drills.
“We just tried to make sure that the players were having a productive summer but also it not become a tremendous grind because the season we’ll practice — if this team does what I think they can do, we’ll practice over 100 times. We’ll play in nearly 40 games.The season is tough and it’s a grind. To try to get better and to try to make sure it was a productive summer, that’s what we focused on.”